What are Virtual Worlds?

Virtual worlds garnered a tremendous amount of attention in 2006-2009, when millions of individuals created online avatars and institutions were developing building after building on designated plots of virtual land. In Linden Lab’s Second Life®, world-class universities hosted thousands of educational projects and experiments, from recreating historical spaces to replicating renowned museums and works of art. A lot of energy was devoted to building tools, climate simulators, physics engines, and facilitating the overall capability of these platforms to simulate reality. The idea was that these environments could foster unique and immersive learning opportunities, doing so in a way that uniquely made people feel like they were together in the same place. While the hype around virtual worlds has waned in recent years, there are still compelling developments, mainly in the form of WebGL, a new way of rendering 3D objects in via a web browser, which has been applied in virtual worlds. CloudParty, a Facebook application, is a good example of the capability of WebGL, though it is more of a hangout space and does not have as strong a tie to learning as do other purpose-built spaces. Google is a leading player in academic WebGL technology, and its vast collection of user contributed “Chrome Experiments” range from an interactive timeline of satellite launches to a visualization of connected cells that enable people to create biologically-inspired patterns.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Virtual environments are ideal for online students needing to participate in real-world sceanarios that may be out of reach due to lack of resoucres in the imediate environment. - deborah.cooke deborah.cooke Sep 6, 2016(- rneuron rneuron Sep 27, 2016)
  • A lot has already been mentioned under the previous entry of virtual and remote laboratories....- helga helga Sep 19, 2016
  • Helga is right - we do seem to have covered this elsewhere. Simulations and virtual realisations are not (yet) as good as the real thing, and there is still no substitute for "being there". However, where accessibility issues exist, such simulations may be still be valuable in an educational context. - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Sep 20, 2016
  • The VR or Second Life are hard to access for faculty. They are bulky and I believe Second Life 2 is being developed. http://www.theverge.com/2016/4/26/11502888/linden-lab-project-sansar-vr-early-applications-open (- rneuron rneuron Sep 27, 2016)
  • Virtual worlds afford us a key component virtual reality does not offer yet; that of the social aspect for meaningful experiences including learning. Virtual worlds also offer a rich venue for the creative output of content as well as experiences which are co-created by the participants. The military has been researching and implemented the use of virtual worlds to conduct virtual simulation-based training in the areas of leadership skills and tactical performance improvement as well as testing of new computing hardware, development of a web-based platform, and security testing of the platform. A hopeful future in which the evolution and comingling of virtual worlds and virtual realities awaits with a societal impact similar to that of the Internet back in the mid 1990s. Perhaps, we will be creating, navigating, and consuming content from one virtual world to another similar to how we currently navigate from one website to another; however, this go round, we will not be limited to the textual and two-dimensional consumption of content. Immersive experiences that harness the perceptual and emotional human abilities holds a promising alternative in the design of powerful learning experiences. - francisca francisca Oct 2, 2016

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Aside from their ability to house simulations, offer participation in scenarios, and serve as a platform for an immersive and virtual social interaction, an important theme I think we are missing here is the potential of virtual worlds to be places of creative design and development. Virtual worlds can be places for digital art creation, places where designs of buildings and objects can be explored, shown, and improved upon, and places where stories can be told and even experienced. - doug.hearrington doug.hearrington Oct 2, 2016

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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on European schools education?

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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?